Los Angeles Airport 101: The ultimate guide to LAX
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Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is continually ranked as one of the busiest airports in the U.S and in the world. Travelers coming from all around the globe pass through on their way to or from far-flung destinations.
Traffic at LAX has been projected to rise to up to 100 million annual passengers by 2040, so chances are you, too, may soon transit through it. The airport serves as a hub for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines; it’s also a focus city for Air New Zealand, Allegiant Air, Qantas and Southwest Airlines.
Navigating to, from and through this major airport can be a lot to handle — but it doesn’t have to be. Many of LAX’s terminal buildings are now connected airside, so you can clear security at one, then walk or shuttle to another. The Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) and Terminals 2 and 3 are connected airside via shuttles, and Tom Bradley and Terminals 4-8 are connected airside via walkways. To leave the airport, you can either take a bus, light rail, car (whether it’s via taxi, through a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service or black car service), shuttle van or even helicopter.
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LAX didn’t always have the best reputation, but the airport is in the midst of a $14 billion capital improvement program that is projected to last through 2023. The airport is now home to a plethora of amenities, including more than a dozen lounges, high-end stores and a wide range of restaurants and bars. Travelers are also spoiled when it comes to choices for layover hotels.
Here’s our comprehensive guide to everything this airport has to offer, from dining options to lounges, hotels, transportation options and more.
Related: The best times to visit Los Angeles
The airport is located about 5 miles from Manhattan Beach, 9 miles from Santa Monica, 13 miles from Beverly Hills, 14 miles from Hollywood and 17 miles from downtown LA. There are many ways to get to LAX, but some transportation options are better than others.
The most cost-effective option would be to take public transportation or scheduled bus service, but it’s not very convenient. If you want to be picked up curbside, you’ll need to order a black car service. Travelers can also use Uber, Lyft or other ride-hailing services to leave LAX after shuttling to the pick-up lot.
While LA’s public transportation system still isn’t great (though it’s improving), you can shuttle to Lot South/LAX City Bus Center and transfer to a public bus. There’s also a shuttle bus to connect from LAX to the Metro Green Line. The Green Line connects to both the Metro Silver Line bus and Metro Blue Line light rail to take passengers into downtown’s 7th Street/Metro Center station.
Alternatively, you can hop on a FlyAway bus from LAX to Union Station (downtown LA) or Van Nuys for $8 to $9.75 one-way. The buses pick up and drop off directly in front of the terminals. Tickets can be bought online or in person.
Transit time: Long
All ride-hailing pick-ups take place at the “LAX-it” lot, a dedicated pick-up space adjacent to Terminal 1. Regardless of your arrival terminal, you have to take a shuttle or walk to this lot if you want to use a ride-hailing service — this includes Uber and Lyft. Drop-offs remain in front of passengers’ respective terminals.
Aside from that minor inconvenience, using Uber, Lyft or other ride-hailing services out of the airport is relatively easy and reasonably priced. Manhattan Beach is about 15 minutes away and would cost about $23 if you Uber; Santa Monica is about 30 minutes away and would cost $30; Beverly Hills is 35 minutes away and would cost $35; Hollywood is about 40 minutes away and would cost $40; and downtown LA is 35 minutes away and would cost $35. Ride times can also become much longer thanks to LA traffic. Surge pricing is an important consideration: You can drive that price down by opting for a shared vehicle, but expect time to be added to your trip.
A bonus of the pick-up lot? It features food trucks, charging stations and restrooms for travelers while they wait for their rides.
Transit time: Medium
Like Uber and Lyft, taxis can pick up passengers from the LAX-it lot but will drop off passengers curbside. There are also two other taxi departure areas: one is on the ground floor of Parking Structure 3 (near TBIT and Terminal 3) and one is at the far end of Terminal 7.
Taxis offer flat rates to various parts of the city. To give you a general idea, the flat rate to go to West Hollywood costs $40 and downtown LA costs $46.50, including a $4 airport pickup surcharge.
Transit time: Medium
If you want to be picked up from the terminal curb front, you can request a black car service like Uber Black or Blacklane. It’s a more expensive option, but it’s also much more convenient. Prearranged car services are especially great for families, as they allow you to book car seats for children or note that you’re traveling with a pet.
If you request a meet and greet service, your driver will park and wait for you with a sign at the arrivals area and help you with your luggage. Otherwise, you’ll find your driver waiting outside at the arrivals level. A Blacklane Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series or Cadillac XTS to downtown LA will cost about $140 one way.
Transit time: Short
If you’re renting a car, board your rental agency’s respective shuttle outside the terminal on the arrivals level. If family or friends offer to pick you up at the airport, LAX has a cellphone lot where they can wait for free for up to two hours, or they can park for free for 15 minutes in one of the central terminal area parking structures.
If you’re traveling between LAX and downtown LA and really want to skip traffic, you can book a Blade helicopter. The “Uber for aviation” service offers private airport transfers for about $3,600, or you can book a seat on a previously scheduled flight for about $345. Unfortunately, the scheduled service doesn’t run as frequently as it does in New York City.
Like many airports, LAX offers free Wi-Fi and water-bottle filling stations in every terminal. For those traveling with a pet or emotional support animal, there are three pre-security animal relief areas, as well as one airside at every terminal except Terminal 8, per this map.
For those missing their pets back home, for a few hours every week, there are therapy dogs greeting passengers in various LAX terminals and at the ground level of the Theme Building, part of the airport’s Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) program. There are also several permanent and rotating art installations throughout the airport, as well as live performances as part of the “LAX Presents” series.
LA is a shopping mecca, so as one would expect, the airport offers great shopping, too. The Great Hall in the TBIT offers the most options of any terminal for shopping, with a Rodeo Drive-inspired retail boutique and duty-free shopping area. Some stores you’ll find here include Burberry, Bulgari, Coach, Fred Segal, Gucci, Hermes, Tumi, Victoria’s Secret, Hugo Boss and more.
Other terminals are a bit more limited, but you’ll still find multiple MAC Cosmetics stores, multiple DFS Duty Free stores, multiple See’s Candies stores, a Kiehl’s store and plenty of newsstand-type stores.
Although the airport’s iconic Theme Building no longer offers meal service in the Encounter restaurant, there’s still an observation deck open on the second weekend of each month (Saturdays and Sundays) from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Alternatively, AvGeeks, especially aviation history enthusiasts, should consider heading to the Flight Path Museum at LAX, which is open on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. General admission is $5 and reservations are recommended. Aside from a treasure trove of flying collectibles, the museum has a Douglas DC-3 parked on the airport’s tarmac for travelers to explore as well as terrific views of aircraft takeoffs and landings on the south runway complex.
If you have a long layover and don’t want to wheel your luggage around with you, you can store your bags at LAX Luggage Storage for $12-$18 per day. You can drop off and pick up your bags at the facility yourself, though if you opt for the more convenient terminal curbside pick-up and drop-off, it’s $5 per item each way.
Los Angeles International Airport has a wide range of lounge options to choose from, including some of the nicest in the nation. Whether you’re flying business or first class, or you’re simply looking to leverage your Priority Pass membership, you should have no trouble finding a place to relax and grab a bite to eat before your flight. (Enrollment is required for select benefits.)
Unfortunately, there are no lounges in Terminal 1, and you can’t walk to another terminal without exiting security. Southwest is the only airline that operates out of this terminal.
Delta Sky Club
Location: Upstairs on the mezzanine level.
Hours: 4:15 a.m.-12:30 a.m.
Access: Delta Gold Medallions and higher traveling internationally, SkyTeam Elite Plus members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from same-day SkyTeam international long-haul or premium transcontinental flights, Delta Sky Club members and cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card when traveling on any same-day Delta flight. Those with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card can purchase day passes for $39.
Amenities: A new 30,000-square-foot club opened in April 2022. It includes a bar that extends from inside to a year-round, outdoor Sky Deck with panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and the iconic Hollywood sign. Travelers will have access to seasonally inspired menus, shower facilities and seating for all types of travelers, with Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Delta One check in, Terminal 2
Location: Terminal 2, curbside access.
Access: Delta One passengers flying nonstop from LAX, as well as with those on flights with connections where at least one leg is a Delta One flight, Delta One passengers traveling on LAX origin transcontinental markets – Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) — and on connecting itineraries similar to above. Also travelers who have Delta 360 status, an invitation-only program for top Diamond Medallion Members traveling in any cabin, any class and/or any market.
Amenities: Exclusive check-in, personal check-in and checked luggage, expedited security screening via a private access corridor and the same amenities at LAX’s Delta Sky Clubs.
Delta Sky Club, Terminal 3 Sky Way
Location: Departures level between Terminal 2 and Terminal 3.
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Access: Delta Gold Medallions and higher traveling internationally, SkyTeam Elite Plus members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from same-day SkyTeam international long-haul or premium transcontinental flights, Delta Sky Club members and cardholders of the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card when traveling on any same-day Delta flight. Those with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card can purchase day passes for $39.
Amenities: Complimentary hot and cold foods, wine, beer, spirits, a coffee nook, shower suites, access to the Sky Deck, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Tom Bradley International Terminal
Location: Level 6, next to the Los Angeles International Lounge.
Hours: 11:35 a.m.-3:35 p.m. (winter), 12:40 p.m.-4:40 p.m. (summer)
Access: Emirates first and business class passengers and Emirates Skywards Platinum and Gold members. Day passes are available to all other Emirates passengers for $130 (or $100 if you’re an Emirates Skywards member).
Amenities: Hot and cold foods, full bar, showers, prayer room, Wi-Fi and power outlets. Check out TPG’s full review of the lounge.
Korean Air KAL Lounge (First)
Location: After security, take the elevator located on the left side of the Duty-Free Cosmetic Store to the 5th floor.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m.
Access: First-class passengers on Korean Air flights; Million Miler Club/Morning Calm Premium Club member on prestige class with one companion on Korean Air flights.
Amenities: Light snacks, wine, beer, spirits, Wi-Fi, shower suites and power outlets near many seats. Check out TPG’s full review of the lounge.
KAL Lounge (Prestige)
Access: Dragon Pass members (limited hours), and first and business class passengers and SkyTeam Elite Plus members traveling on an international flight operated by a SkyTeam airline. Enrollment is required for select benefits.
Los Angeles International Lounge
Location: Level 6, next to the Emirates Lounge.
Hours: 6 a.m.- last departure.
Access: Air Tahiti Nui, El Al, Fiji Airways, Japan Airlines and Philippine Airlines first and business class passengers and Japan Airlines premium economy passengers.
Amenities: Premium food, light snacks, wine, beer, spirits, Starbucks coffee, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Oneworld Los Angeles Lounge
Location: Post security on the fifth floor.
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Access: Business- and first-class passengers, plus Oneworld Sapphire and Oneworld Emerald members traveling on eligible itineraries on any Oneworld airline.
Amenities: Hot and cold foods, full bar, showers, kids play area, runway views, televisions, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Star Alliance Lounge
Location: Level 6 near the central atrium.
Hours: 7 a.m.-1 a.m.
Access: First and business class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members on eligible itineraries on any Star Alliance airline. United Club and Air Canada Maple Leaf Club members also have access.
Amenities: Hot and cold foods, full bar, a popular outdoor terrace, showers, a library, Wi-Fi and power outlets. First-class passengers have access to a separate lounge that offers a la carte dining and additional privacy.
Qantas International First Lounge
Location: Level 5, near the Korean Air KAL Lounge.
Hours: The lounge is currently closed.
Access: First-class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members traveling on eligible itineraries on any Oneworld airline. American Airlines elites traveling solely on North American flights, except Mexico City, don’t have access.
Amenities: A la carte dining, full bar, showers, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
American Express Centurion Lounge
Location: Level 4. There’s an entrance past security and another just down the escalator from the bridge that connects Terminal 4 and TBIT.
Hours: Closed, under renovation. Grab-and-go pre-packaged food and beverage options are available on the 6th floor from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Access: Those with a Centurion Card, The Platinum Card from American Express or The Business Platinum Card from American Express. Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business cardholders will also have access when traveling on any same-day Delta flight.
Amenities: Wide selection of locally themed hot and cold foods, a curated full bar, showers, a family room, spa, Wi-Fi and power outlets. Check out TPG’s first look at the lounge.
Related: A guide to Amex Centurion Lounges
American Airlines Admirals Club
Location: Concourse level across from gate 40.
Hours: 4 a.m.-12:45 a.m.
Access: AAdvantage Platinum elites and up traveling internationally, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald and members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from qualifying international or premium transcontinental American- or Oneworld-operated flights, Admirals Club and day pass-holders. You and up to 10 authorized users can get a complimentary Admirals Club membership through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
Amenities: Complimentary snacks and drinks, Wi-Fi, power outlets, children’s play area, showers and a conference room.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge
Location: Across from gate 40 (same entrance as the Admirals Club).
Hours: 4 a.m.-12:45 a.m.
Access: AAdvantage Platinum elites and up traveling internationally, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald and members and business- and first-class passengers who are connecting to or from qualifying international or premium transcontinental American- or Oneworld-operated flights.
Amenities: Hot and cold foods, large self-serve bar, showers, Wi-Fi and many power outlets. First-class passengers traveling on a three-cabin aircraft have access to the exclusive Flagship First Dining area.
American Airlines Admirals Club
Location: One level up from the gates, near the duty-free store.
Hours: 4:45 a.m.-12 a.m.
Access: AAdvantage Platinum elites and up traveling internationally, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald and members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from qualifying international or premium transcontinental American- or Oneworld-operated flights, Admirals Club and day pass-holders. You can get a complimentary Admirals Club membership through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
Amenities: Complimentary snacks and drinks, showers, Wi-Fi and many power outlets.
American Eagle Regional Terminal (Terminal 5)
American Airlines Admirals Club
Location: Across from gates 52D and 52E, after taking the bus to the remote terminal.
Hours: 5:15 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Access: AAdvantage Platinum elites and up traveling internationally, Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald and members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from qualifying international or premium transcontinental American- or Oneworld-operated flights, Admirals Club and day passholders. You can get a complimentary Admirals Club membership through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®.
Amenities: Complimentary snacks and drinks, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Location: Mezzanine level near gate 64.
Hours: 5 a.m.-11 p.m.
Access: Alaska Airlines first-class passengers (doesn’t include upgrades), Alaska Lounge members, Admirals Club members, and anyone purchasing a day pass ($50, or $25 if you use your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card).
Amenities: Complimentary snacks, barista-made Starbucks coffee, non-premium alcohol, Wi-Fi and many power outlets.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge
Location: On the mezzanine level, between gates 65A and 65B.
Hours: 4:30 a.m.-9:45 p.m.
Access: Air Canada business class passengers, Premium Rouge passengers traveling within Canada, to the U.S. and Sun destinations, Altitude Elite 35K elites and up, first- and business-class passengers and Star Alliance Gold members on eligible itineraries on any Star Alliance airline. Air Canada Maple Leaf Club and United Club members also have access. Aeroplan Black Cardmembers and Aeroplan business and corporate credit cardholders using a one-time guest pass also have access.
Amenities: Complimentary snacks and drinks, cell-free quiet zone, Wi-Fi and many power outlets.
Location: Landside (before security) in the Theme Building, facing Terminal 6.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Access: Current active duty, Guard, Reserve or dependent ID card. Military retiree ID cards are also accepted if space is available. VA-issued ID cards or driver’s licenses with “Veteran” shown on the card do not fall into the above categories.
Amenities: Canteen snack bar, dining room, large nap room, restrooms, showers, a family zone with play area, three private family rooms with a dedicated restroom, three private connection rooms for calling home, big-screen TV lounge and movie theater, gaming lounge, charging stations, secure luggage storage and an outdoor pavilion.
Location: Next to Gate 71A.
Hours: 4:30 a.m.-12:15 a.m.
Access: United Premier Gold elites and up traveling internationally, Star Alliance Gold members, premium-cabin passengers who are connecting to or from qualifying international or premium transcontinental United- or Star Alliance-operated flights, United Club members and day pass-holders. You can get a complimentary United Club membership through the United Club℠ Infinite Card. You can also get two annual one-time United Club passes through the United Explorer Card or the United Business Card.
Amenities: Complimentary snacks and drinks, outdoor terrace, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
United Polaris Lounge
Location: Upstairs between gates 73 and 75A.
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Access: United Polaris business-class passengers and business and first class on Star Alliance partners
Amenities: Sit-down dining, buffet, full bar, showers, nap room, wellness room, Wi-Fi and power outlets.
There are no lounges in Terminal 8, but Terminal 7 is just a short walk away and you don’t have to visit security to visit it.
Bonus: Non-lounge Priority Pass options
Flyers can melt away their travel stress with a visit to the Be Relax Spa in Terminal 1. They can opt for a 10-minute hand or foot massage, or indulge in a 30-minute lounger massage. Priority Pass members can also enjoy one hour of game station usage at Gameway in Terminal 6.
The airport has some terrific lounges, including ones with a la carte dining and outdoor bars, but you’ll need to be flying in a premium cabin or have elite status to access the ones with the good food and drink offerings. Everyone else looking for preflight grub will need to visit one of LAX’s restaurants or bars.
Luckily, travelers can sample some of the best of LA’s food scene without leaving the airport. Options include great coffee at Urth Caffé & Bar in Terminal 1, Slapfish for seafood in Terminal 2, La Provence Patisserie and Cafe in Terminal 4, Donburi Bistro in Terminal 5, Earthbar in Terminal 6, Wahoo Fish Taco in Terminal 6, Loteria Grill in Terminal 7, Engine Co. No. 28 in Terminal 8 and artisanal burgers from Umami Burger and Neapolitan-style pizza from 800 Degrees in TBIT.
LAX has even the pickiest of eaters covered. The airport features a number of local eateries with recognizable names such as Ashland Hill (T7), Lamill Coffee (TBIT) and Ford’s Filling Station (T5) that use ingredients identical to those in their city locations. Even the rideshare pickup lot offers a good variety of options from rotating food trucks — a staple of the city’s cultural identity.
However, LAX’s most popular dining option might just be the In-N-Out burger located on Sepulveda Boulevard, just off the airport property. In-N-Out is a California institution, but what makes this one stand out is that it has picture-perfect views of the flight path into the airport, a mecca for anyone who loves plane spotting. Heck, some AvGeeks arrange trips to California specifically to photograph airplanes here.
If you have a few hours between flights, you can enjoy your plane-spotting with a burger and feel like you got a real LA experience. It is relatively walkable from Terminal 1, but you’ll want to leave the airport from the arrivals level, as the sidewalk on the departures level is very narrow. Savvy travelers used to get to In-N-Out by hopping on the complimentary shuttle for the nearby Parking Spot lot, but the lot has since made it clear that their shuttle is for “paying customers only” and now requires your car’s entry ticket (or a flash of the free Spot Club card).
Although no hotel is connected directly to the airport, all of the hotels in the area offer free shuttle services. If your layover isn’t overnight and you’re simply looking for a quiet place to shower and regroup before your next flight, call a hotel and inquire about a day-rate room.
Related: The best hotels for a layover at LAX
The Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel is often an overall solid choice. The shuttle runs frequently, the rooms are well-appointed and the hotel has wonderful views of the airport. Nightly rates start at $149 or 16,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, depending on the date.
If you have Hyatt elite status, you may prefer the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport for its impressive club lounge. Or, if you’re an AvGeek, you’ll want to stay at the H Hotel Los Angeles, Curio Collection by Hilton for its spectacularly well-placed 12th-floor terrace with truly exceptional views of the airport. Other solid options include the Westin Los Angeles Airport and the Sonesta Los Angeles Airport LAX Hotel (formerly the Crowne Plaza).
Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson.
Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.
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